Shakira is running out of options to avoid a trial for six alleged tax offenses. The Colombian singer claims that until 2015 her fiscal residence was in the Bahamas, and as such, she should not have had to pay Spanish income tax – known as IRPF. A report submitted by her defense attorneys, to which EL PAÍS has had access, claims that during the three years in question her presence in Spain was “sporadic.” That hypothesis, however, was refuted on Thursday by a Tax Agency investigator who confirmed evidence of the evasion before the judge overseeing the pre-trial stage of the case.
The prosecutor claims that the global superstar, whose real name is Isabel Mebarak, evaded €14.5 million in taxes by concealing her wealth via a network of companies based in tax havens. The Spanish Tax Agency believes that from the year 2012, two years after she began a relationship with the then-Barcelona FC soccer player Gerard Piqué, she should have been considered a resident of Spain because she spent more than the stipulated six months plus one day to be classified as such. It is true that she traveled across the world during that period due to her work commitments, but these were “sporadic absences.” The Tax Agency claims that to all intents and purposes she was living in Barcelona.
If the case is sent to trial, Shakira could end up facing having to publicly testify in court and could even face jail time
When she appeared before the court for questioning back in 2019, Shakira stuck to the script prepared by her defense team and claimed that during those three years she was living in the Bahamas, where she had a property that she had shared with her previous partner Antonio de la Rúa. She defined herself at the time as a “nomad with no roots.” Her defense attorneys are sticking to this hypothesis despite the fact that it has been debunked by tax inspectors. There is not one piece of evidence to show that she spent a single day on the islands from 2012 onward. Her defense has insisted that their client held a residency certificate issued by the authorities in the Bahamas, a country where no income tax is paid.
“What’s important is not so much the residence in the Bahamas, but whether Shakira can be considered a fiscal resident in Spain,” reads the report from the defense, which was put together by two professors of financial and tax law. The real fight that Shakira is facing is elsewhere: over the timeline. The singer is seeking to contest the number of days that she lived in Spain.
It is true that the Tax Agency has been unable to compile “direct evidence” that she lived in Spain for the 183 days to be considered a resident. Such proof could include receipts for purchases, social media posts and the use of credit cards. The agency does, however, have indirect proof and considers her tours and concerts to be “sporadic absences” because after her work was done she returned to Spain.
The law professors who put together the report argue that these sporadic absences are only relevant for a taxpayer whose residency in Spain had been previously established. “During these years there were sporadic presences in Spain and never permanence,” the document argues, even if the singer was considered a “fiscal traveler.” One of the experts hired by Shakira appeared in court at the same time as one of the tax inspectors, who managed to refute all of the former’s arguments.
For Shakira, the problem lies in the fact that she has nothing to prove that she was in the Bahamas, not even a plane ticket
The defense is seeking to play all of its chips. The lawyers have insisted that a criminal trial is “not the appropriate place” to resolve these differences with the Tax Agency, because residency rules in Spain are “open, confusing and indeterminate.” The battle is over days, but also hours. The report is calling for the court not to include as whole days occasions when Shakira spent just a few hours in Spanish territory. But the tax inspector has also managed to pull apart this argument, and argues that entire days in both Spain and the Bahamas should be taken into account. For Shakira, the problem lies in the fact that she has nothing to prove that she was in the Bahamas during these years, not even a plane ticket, and as such, there is no other country to which these absences can be attributed.
The judge overseeing the case in Esplugues de Llobregat (Barcelona) will have to decide whether to send it to trial. Shakira, who has already returned the amount she allegedly evaded paying, could end up facing having to publicly testify in court and could even face jail time – the prosecutor is accusing her of six tax offenses related to the non-payment of IRPF and wealth taxes for those three years.
Another route that the singer could explore is a deal with the prosecutor, under which she could accept the acts of the case and pay the corresponding fine in exchange for a greatly reduced sentence.
For now, the battle continues. Via a press release, her representatives have insisted that the process is still in the “pre-trial phase,” and have expressed their willingness to collaborate to resolve what they consider to be a mere “difference of criteria.”
English version by Simon Hunter.